SWEAT Crew Leaders David and Morgan want to thank each and every volunteer who made this season possible. From Session 1 to Session 8, the level of hard work, comradery, and understanding you shared went far to making our jobs easier. It was a memorable summer, and you all hold a dear place in our hearts. Thank you for the time you spent away from your jobs, your summer breaks, your loved ones to improve one of the most storied trails on earth. We hope to see you next year!
Your Crew Leaders.
Session 8’s hike-in was a deceptive one—only four miles, but every step of it uphill! Still, the crew made it up in time for everyone to set up camp and begin some trailwork. Tim and Bryan picked up where they left off on their previous 2015 SWEAT crews by swingblading, while Chuck (the ‘new guy’) showed off his professional landscaping skills with the loppers. After supper the crew went to meet our neighbors at Cosby Knob Shelter—a couple making their way to Hot Springs—who seemed enthusiastic about joining SWEAT next year.
Judging by the forecast, the rain appeared all but imminent. Donned in rain suits we set out to accomplish as much as possible before the bottom dropped out…but it never did! Session 7 volunteer, Britt, joined us around noon and went straight to cleaning waterbars. Bryan quit early after taking a headache but was back on his feet by chow time. Again we went to go visit the shelter neighbors, only to find one backpacker who was already asleep.
The team got to see the work in store on the 4+ mile hike to Inadu Knob: brushing…brushing…and more brushing. Leapfrogging was the game as the volunteers paired off on lopping and swingblading duties. The sound of thunder never far away, the crew worked double-time and with fingers crossed. By day’s end they’d accomplished 2 miles of trail work and dodged another downpour.
After a breakfast of peanut butter and honey burritos, the crew went on a brushing rampage. We met a handful of friendly hikers who thanked us for our work and offered us snacks. Bring on the trail magic! After our nightly shelter visit, we talked under the tarp until ‘hiker-thirty’ called everyone to their tents.
Last workday for SWEAT 2015! It was a bittersweet day for the crew: on one hand it was hard to believe the week had gone by so fast; on the other, we wanted to see the job through. Following the crew’s last swipe of the swingblade, final cut with the loppers, they decided there was enough time to head back to basecamp early, where Meg was waiting with burgers and a birthday cake to celebrate Morgan’s 30th. What a way to end a great season!
|Session 7 Crew|
Day 1 - The hike from Clingman’s Dome to camp was a 10+mile slog through the fog and rain. We stopped at two shelters en route, allowing everybody the chance to lunch out of the wet and empty their boots. With about three miles left, David had to respond to an injured hiker report. Applying his excellent wilderness medical skills he was able to stabilize the hiker until other help arrived and they airlifted him out. Good work, David!
|Brit on the swingblade|
Day 2 - It was a 6-mile hike to the end of our work area, made a little easier by clear skies. Jeff, Kirk and Tina began brushing at Silers Bald Shelter while the rest of the gang ascended further north to tackle the blackberry invasion. At the end of the day, Morgan commented that it seemed like the toughest workday of the season. Luckily, there was a great supper and dessert to look forward to, followed by bedtime around 7:30.
|Kessiah works the loppers|
Day 3 - The crew split into two teams today, with Morgan, Tina, Jeff and Kirk heading south brushing while the rest of the bunch went north to finish a 2-mile section of waterbars and lopping. On the way up, David’s crew heard a bear growl, so they kept close together in hopes of no further encounters. After a good 3.5-mile total of work completed, everyone headed back to camp for tuna mac and conversation with the wild pig hunter, Rick.
|Hanging out at camp|
Day 4 - Yet another day of dividing and conquering. Morgan’s group headed south and brushed their way back from Starkey Gap. David’s group had a more thrilling workday after Kessiah spotted a rattlesnake on the trail!!! The crew took some photos from a safe distance and resumed their brushing a little further downtrail. Later, on the way back to camp, they were caught in a major downpour. Luckily Kirk and Morgan had supper prepared for their soggy return.
|Andrew on the loose!|
Day 5 - The crew ate breakfast a little slower this morning, watching and hoping the rain would quit soon. In the end everyone sucked it up to clean a few more waterbars and dig sidehill. Tina showed everyone out with her amazing pulaski skills while Greg worked the shovel. Returning to camp the skies opened long enough for the crew to dry their gear and sun bathe. Dinner was followed by a game of ‘Bean-Boozled’ (look it up…YUCK!).
|Group shot with some passing hikers|
Day 6- The long walk home…frequent stops with the intermittent bear markers (aka fresh scat). The ascent to the dome was long and arduous, but it paid off once the crew reached the top and were able to take in the breathtaking views. After tacos at Soak Ash basecamp, David and Morgan handed out the prized trail crew shirts and everyone got time to reflect on another great week of trail maintenance.
On our climb from Cades Cove we met a hiker who’d lost her backpack to a bear! It goes without saying that it put newbie volunteers Bryant and Sam on pins and needles (and never more than a stones throw from their packs on the way to Mollies Field.) Randy returned for his second week, while ATC SORO’s Trail Specialist, Chris Binder, made a guest appearance on the way up. Arriving at camp we encountered Smoky Mountain Hiking Club (SMHC) members Hopeful and Ox, who helped us devise a plan for the week over dinner.
With our SMHC additions, we decided to divide and conquer trail-south of Mollies. Team one worked on installing steps while team two handled brushing. Both Ox and Hopeful proved to be a wellspring of trail knowledge, advising the crew on the do’s and don’ts of tread rehab. And wouldn’t you know it…they shared dessert with us too!
We witnessed an authentic moment of trail magic during breakfast: A family of hikers had forgotten to pack their stove. On the verge of cancelling their trip, Hopeful stepped forward and offered his. What a lifesaver! In other news, it was a big brushing day for SWEAT. We headed north and worked back through the bugs and blowdowns. During breaks, Sam and Bryant foraged for early blackberries, while Randy took time to rest his eyes.
With the team’s main objectives accomplished ahead of schedule, everyone was eager to work on steps and waterbars. David led the step installments while Morgan handled the latter. It was a productive day, with the crew finishing five steps, two waterbars, and a handful of drains.
After the morning safety meeting—led by none other than SWEAT veteran, Randy—the crew set out to accomplish more major jobs. Sidehill was priority, followed by more waterbars. Meanwhile, Sam serenaded the crew with an original song he’d written in light of his SWEAT experience. What he lacks in vocals he makes up for in wit and creativity.
Crew Leaders David and Morgan would again like to express their appreciation to Vinicius—a hard worker and a good friend. Before heading out to his next adventure he left us with a few words about his experience:
I have only good things to say about the time I lived here, how many miles we’ve walked and how many beautiful places visited. But without a doubt the most important aspect of my adventure was the people I met, people of good soul and good heart, who made my volunteer period a memorable one.
I’ve seen different cultures, different ideas and stories; I learned to work with the land and to enjoy good food. Did I learn great lessons from this adventure? Maybe, but without doubt the most important was that all journeys are taken one step at a time.
|Morgan and Vin.|
Day 1: On arrival day for session 5, the new crew celebrated Vinicius’ 22nd birthday with surprise cake and ice cream. This week marks his fourth and final crew week. His efforts are dearly appreciated and he’ll be sorely missed!
|SWEAT Crew Session 5|
It was an 11-mile haul from Newfound Gap to Hughes Ridge Cabin. On the way up, the crew found time to tackle a couple blowdowns and catch some rest at Charlie’s Bunion. Arriving at the cabin the team was quick to set up tents and take rest, only to be summoned by the aroma of chicken tacos.
|Taking a break on the hike in.|
Day 2: After yet another long hike to reach the work area’s northern terminus, veteran SWEAT members Handlebar and Randy quickly settled into their brush-busting roles. Meanwhile Doug showed Richard the finer points of lopping, and Ryan tried his hand at the scythe. There was more than one person mentioning sore arms on the walk back to camp. After dinner, the crew gathered over hot cocoa and jokes shared by Randy, Richard and Doug.
|Cleaning a waterbar.|
Day 3: Randy, Handlebar and Morgan were the certified swing-bladers for the day, while Doug and Richard cleaned waterbars. It was a productive day owing to clear skies and cool breezes. With the aim to reach an overlook by quitting time, the crew pushed hard and got there. Needless to say, the day called for an early bedtime!
|Heading back to camp.|
Day 4: The crew hit a milestone with their brushing by completing the section north of Peck’s Corner. That’s a whopping 4.5 miles of serious blowdowns and brush. Back at the cabin, the victory was celebrated with fried pies and a commemorative game of PELT!, led by Vinicius, the star player.
|Morgan taking a well-deserved break.|
Day 5: The sun shined on crew #5’s last work day. Vinicius was especially poised, as it was his final day volunteering with SWEAT. He and David teamed up on waterbars while the rest of the crew followed Morgan up to Laurel Top. Eight hours and a lot of sweat later, the crew celebrated a job well done by soaking up some sun at the finish line.
|Love the Smokies.|
|Session 4 Crew|
Day 1: Session 4 began by welcoming a host of new faces and veteran volunteers. There’s Newt, a 7-time crewman, and his grandson, Jacob, from Dallas. There’s thru-hikers Elizabeth (another alum), Doug and Will, Vinicius (back for more), and Patrick, an intern for ATC SORO. After the crew made the long journey to the trailhead, their journey was made longer when they took the wrong trail. With daylight burning, the leaders decided they should stay at Round Bottom horse camp where everyone could recoup and take a swim in the nearby creek. Sadly, Newt decided he had better return to basecamp after some difficulty with the climb. We were sad to see him leave, but believe he’ll enjoy waiting for Jacob’s return with all the conveniences of basecamp and local family.
|The Crew is Ready for Work!|
Day 2: Approach to Tricorner base camp take two! The crew got up super early to try and make up for lost time. They met a lot of difficulty head on, as the first 2.5 miles seemed more like an endless staircase than a hike. By the halfway point, Crew Leader David was tending to Jacob and Doug’s blisters, and Vinicius needed a nap. Camp was reached with just enough energy for the crew to set up tents and cook supper…Tuna Alfredo! Thanks as always, Meg.
|Patrick and the Crew Take a Break|
|Bustin' the Brush|
Day 3: Everyone was incredibly amped to begin working. Breakfast was scarfed down ahead of the team’s charge up Mount Chapman, which needed a good deal of brushing and waterbar cleaning. David bestowed Will the trail came ‘Super Safe’ after he exhibited superb safety…ness while wielding the Pulaski. Meanwhile Doug, Elizabeth, Pat and Jacob handled blowdowns. Go teamwork!
|Patrick wields the loppers.|
|Will clears some brush.|
Day 4: It was a soggy day in the Smokies—plenty of pruny feet to go around by day’s end. Patrick was awarded the trail crew name ‘Rogue’ after he grabbed his loppers and took off on a serious mission. Jacob swing-bladed from beginning to end, assisting the team’s amazing 2.5 mile maintenance run for the day.
|Vin cleans up limbs on a blowdown.|
Day 5: A long final day of brushing was broken up at lunch with a trail crew naming party. They are as follows:
Doug-The Smoky Mountaineer
After dinner, we resumed our nightly P.E.L.T. game in the muck and mud, so everyone’s ready to hit the showers as soon as we get back to Soak Ash.
Day 6: Soak Ash, here we come! The crew got up before daylight to get a leg up on the heat (not to mention there were more than a few members ready for some food NOT cooked in a pot). We made it down in record time and took advantage of the long drive to sing Genie in a Bottle and dry out.
|Session 3 Volunteers: Vinicius, Andy, & Tom|
Session 3 was a smaller group than usual, but what we lacked in numbers we more than made up for in laughs and gusto. We added Tom (aka ‘Tomcat’) this week, a Middle School Ag. Teacher from Savannah, Georgia, who made it up the mountain in record speed. Returning crew members Andy and Vinicius added sing-a-longs to our arduous climb from Cades Cove, ensuring we’d encounter no bears on our way.
|Vin Takes in the View|
|This Brush Needed Some Serious Taming.|
We knew we were in for a challenging week after waking to Vinicius yelling at the local wild pig population at Beechnut Gap. He mentioned catching one for a barbeque—‘Brazilian Style’—but Crew Leader David advised it would be breaching ATC’s Leave No Trace backcountry ethics, and that we better stick with Meg’s prepared dinners. After brushing through the morning, we met a couple of hikers who showed us photos of the resident rattlesnake on Rocky Top. The crew decided a photo was as close to an encounter as we were comfortable with.
|Raising the Fire Rake Following the Battle of the Brush|
Caffeine was the word this week. It made the morning rainfall much more tolerable. After a thorough Job Hazards Analysis (JHA) from David, describing the dangers of working with wet tools, we set out to clean waterbars and tackle more brushing. By day’s end, Tomcat understood the meaning of ‘Hiker Hunger.’
|Working Through the Mud.|
|A Drain that Drains!|
We rustled ourselves out of camp early in hopes of beating the rain, hiked to Rocky Top and brushed our way back to Beechnut Gap. The work is difficult—lopping, swingblading, lopping some more—but with the help of precooked bacon, the team found themselves up to the challenge.
|David and Tom Embrace the Muck.|
Rain rain rain! The team stuck close together out of necessity, working through the torrential downpour to see two waterbars completed. There seemed no end to the mud and water, when, sometime after lunch, the sky opened up and the team was able to finish strong, digging drainage dips and raking muck.
It was all downhill on our hike back out to Cades Cove. An end to another successful week of SWEAT Crew was complete back at our Soak Ash basecamp where camp coordinator Meg stuffed us full of delicious food. Nothing like a week in the backcountry to build up an appetite!
|SWEAT Crew Session 3|
|SWEAT Crew Session 2|
|Up On Rocky Top|
Day 2: We began our first workday by picking up tools located at two different shelters on our way to Rocky Top. By the time we reached the summit, everyone was ready to break and enjoy the magnificent panorama. Meanwhile, Andy took the opportunity to visit Thunderhead - what can we say, the girl's got some energy! From there we worked on clearing brush from the northern portion of our work section.
|View Hiking Up to Rocky Top|
|Vinicius & Tim Clear Back Brush|
|David Attacks a Blowdown|
Day 5: Our work week drawing to an end, the crew set out with the drive to finish the remaining 1.5 miles of trail. With an ample supply of gusto, good humor, and a few sore arms, the crew raced to the finish in time to return tools to Spence and survey the several days of hard work. Needless to say, we returned to camp satisfied with our labors.
Day 6: We packed out after packing up camp and enjoyed ice cream down at Cades Cove. The drive back to camp put us at Soak Ash just in time for a delicious cookout courtesy of our chef extraordinaire, Meg. Hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled pineapple, watermelon, baked beans…. the list of amazing food seemed never to end. A great end to a fantastic week!
|Session 2 Volunteers: Tim, Andy, Vinicius (from Brazil!), |
Dave, and Jeff